The Rough Places Plain


“What’s the fastest route” he asks me as we quickly come to a stop behind a sea of red brake lights.  I pull out my phone and map all the options.  Every way is red with traffic backed up.  Deep down I must be a small town girl because traffic annoys me more than almost anything.  We settle into a long wait.

“What do you think about the Syrian refugee crisis?” I ask.  We haven’t been on a date in half a year, so discussing politics while sitting in traffic still feels like a luxury.

We inch our way through the clouds of dust coming from the road construction and finally make it downtown.  We pass the beautiful brick cathedral, looking for parking.  People are rushing up the stairs.  Three old ladies in fur trimmed pea coats walk by us quickly, and I wonder how many years they have attended this performance of The Messiah.  Jon pulls the tall wooden door open for me and we crowd into the foyer with all the other late comers.  A lady in a long black skirt and short hair firmly holds her hand over the door of the sanctuary, waiting I think for a pause so she can let us in with minimal disturbance.

I can still hear the soloist through the etched glass doors …

“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”

One of my favorite verses.  All the crookedness will be made straight: the crookedness of my own heart, the crookedness of injustice, the crookedness in the hearts of others, the crookedness of cancer, the crookedness of abortion, the crookedness of terrorism.  Sin contorts and makes everything rough and crooked.  But He came to make it straight, to make it smooth, to take away things that are tough and painful, the small hills and the huge mountains.

We sneak around the back of the orchestra and grab some of the last seats.   The church is beautiful, with tall stained glass windows and white pillars trimmed with gold.  The ceiling is painted dark blue and speckled with gold stars, and the majestic wooden organ covers the back wall.

“Is he awake?” Jon whispers, motioning at the percussionist with his white head nodding off to the side.  He does look like he will slide right out of his chair.

The music is crisp and clear, the soloists on point with every note. Jon puts his arm around me.  “Why don’t we go to things like this more often?” he whispers.  “Because you are wearing a hoodie.” I say and we both laugh.  I scoot my chair closer to his and he tries to convince me in a whisper that suits are totally inappropriate for 40 degree weather.

The percussionist comes alive suddenly as his part comes in, and he acts years younger than he looks, bouncing his head to count the notes.

And then the alto…

“Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

I scan the sanctuary of the beautiful church, looking out over hundreds of bored faces.  Some look half asleep, others look intelligently as if analyzing the music.  Did they hear it?  Death is swallowed up…in victory!  Do they know it?  Can they imagine it? Death, the worst enemy, the thing that breaks our hearts, the ultimate separator of love, the most crooked, the most rough of all the places, even death is made straight and plain, demolished in the resurrection.

The gospel sung is a beautiful way to remind yourself of its truth.  It is sweet to live in a story where you know the ending, and you know the end is all things made straight, the ugliest of all enemies is swallowed, engulfed by righteousness.

We file out of the church with the crowd, thanking several of the musicians as we pass.  The night is cold and I grab Jon’s arm as we try to remember where we parked our car.

The song of the chorus still rings through my head.  So many of my friends have felt the sting of death this year, very closely.  And living through the normal parts of life, like Christmas, is so hard when you are in a valley.  My prayer for them in this season is that they would find great hope and comfort and peace as they cling to the promise of valleys being raised, and of crookedness being straightened, and of hardships being healed, and of trumpets calling the righteous to spring up out of their graves, and of every single causation of fatality in the world melting away like a long lost memory.